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Thursday, February 27, 2014

Decision-Making & God's Will, Part 2

Last time we began to look at the issue of understanding the will of God and its relationship to decision-making.  (If you missed the first part of this series, you can find it here.)  Now we want to look at the two different concepts of God’s will found in Scripture.
The first is God’s sovereign will, sometimes called His decretive will or His secret will. It is God’s predetermined plan for everything that happens in the universe and there are several things we want to note about it. 
It is certain.  That is, God always accomplishes His sovereign will.  This idea is supported by passages all over the Bible.  Daniel 4:35, “All the inhabitants of the earth are accounted as nothing, But He does according to His will in the host of heaven And among the inhabitants of earth; And no one can ward off His hand Or say to Him, ‘What have You done?’” Psalm 115:3, But our God is in the heavens; He does whatever He pleases.  Psalm 135:6, Whatever the LORD pleases, He does, In heaven and in earth, in the seas and in all deeps.  Nothing can prevent God from accomplishing His will.  What He has planned will inevitably come to pass. (cf. Job 42:2; Psa33:11; Jer 23:20; Isa 14:24-27, 43:13, 46:9-10, 55:10-11; Eph 1:11)

It is exhaustive.  All things are meticulously controlled by His divine sovereign power.  Eph 1:11 refers to God as the one who controls all things according to the counsel of His will.  This includes the natural world (Job 37:6-13; Psa 65:9-11, 135:6-7, 147:15-18), seemingly random or insignificant events (Pro 16:33; 1 Sam 9:15-17, 10:20-21;Matt 6:26-30), human history (Acts 17:26; Psa 33:10-11; Pro 21:1; Job 12:23-25;Jas 4:13-15), and human decisions for both good and evil (Jos 11:20; Exo 21:13;Psa 105:25; Amos 3:6; 2 Sam 16:10; 1 Chron 21:1, 2 Sam 24:1; Jdg 9:23; 1 Sam16:14-16, 16:23-17:1, 18:10, 19:9; 1Kings 12:15, 22:20-23; 1 Sam 2:25; 2 Thess2:11-12; Gen 45:5-9, 50:20; Exo 4:21, 9:12, 10:20, 10:27, 11:10, 14:4, 14:8; Rom 9:17-18; Acts 2:22-23, 4:27-28).  Nothing is left outside of His control and nothing happens that He has not willed.

It is secret.  Only God knows His sovereign plan (Rom11:33-34; Jas 4:13-15).  There are two exceptions to this: 1) predictive prophecy, in which the Lord reveals ahead of time something that He plans to do (Matt 24:30; Rev 6-19); and (2) the ultimate destiny of the saved and the lost (John 3:16, 3:36, 14:3; Rev20:11-15; 21:8).

It is perfect.  God’s sovereign plan will ultimately lead to God’s greatest glory (Eph 1:3-14, 3:10, 3:20-21; Rom 9:22-23).

From what the Bible teaches about God’s sovereign will, we can derive several principles:
1.     God does have a detailed plan for everyone’s life because everything that happens is a part of His sovereign plan.
2.     We cannot discern what that plan is – it is secret.
3.     We are not required to discern what that plan is.
4.     We cannot mess it up.  It will take place without fail.

The second biblical concept of God’s will is His moral will.  It is sometimes called His revealed will or His preceptive or prescriptive will.  God’s moral will is His revealed commands and principles in the Bible that teach us how we ought to live and what we ought to believe.  There are several things to note about it:

It is the expression, in behavioral terms, of God’s character.  In Leviticus 11:44-45, Yahweh tells His people to “be holy, for I am holy.”  He then defines how to do that in everyday life by giving moral laws.  This principle of pursuing the holiness of God is reiterated in the New Testament as Peter quotes Lev 11:45 in 1 Peter 1:15-16: but as he who called you is holy, you also be holy in all your conduct, since it is written, "You shall be holy, for I am holy."

It touches every aspect and moment of life.  It directs our goals, the pinnacle of which should be to love God and one another (Matt 22:35-40).  It directs our motives, the highest of which should be to glorify God (1 Cor 10:31; 2 Cor 5:9;Col 1:10).  It also directs the means by which we may accomplish our goals, requiring that they be lawful and wise (Eph 5:15-17).

It is fully revealed in the Bible.  It is our final authority for faith and practice, life and godliness (2 Pet 1:3-4).  It is sufficient to equip the believer for every good work (2 Tim 3:16-17). 

From what the Bible teaches about God’s moral will, we can derive at least a couple of principles:
1.     Wherever the Bible commands us to know or do God’s will, it must be referring to His moral will.  This is because His moral will is fully revealed in the Bible, but His sovereign will is secret.
2.     God holds us responsible for keeping His moral will. 

Next time, we’ll take a look at how these biblical concepts of God’s will pose a challenge to the prevailing view of God’s will and decision-making.  Until then, consider for which of the two biblical views of God’s will do you bear any responsibility?  Are you responsible to accomplish His sovereign will?  What about His moral will?

Thursday, February 20, 2014

Decision-Making & God's Will

Most of us in the church at one time or another have been approached by someone in need of advice about a particular decision he or she was facing.  All of us know what it is like to face these kinds of decisions ourselves. We want to do the right thing but we may not know how to go about choosing the “right” option. How are we as believers to go about making important decisions and what impact should the concept of God’s will have on those decisions? In the coming series of articles, we will attempt to answer those questions and a few others so that we can be confident that we understand how to make decisions biblically.
Understanding the will of God and its relationship to decision-making is an important issue.  The Bible clears commands us to understand God’s will.  Ephesians 5:17 reads, Therefore do not be foolish, but understand what the will of the Lord is.  Not only are we to understand God’s will, but we are to obey it.  In Colossians 1:9-10, Paul prays for the recipients, that you may be filled with the knowledge of his will in all spiritual wisdom and understanding, so as to walk in a manner worthy of the Lord, fully pleasing to him, bearing fruit in every good work and increasing in the knowledge of God (cf Rom 12:1-2). 
The key question is: to what is the Bible referring when it speaks of “God’s will”?  There is a prevailing view of God’s will which states that for the life of every person, God has an ideal, best-case blueprint that the believer may actually miss if he doesn’t correctly discern it.  It states that it is the responsibility of the individual to correctly discern God’s will in important decisions so as to be “in the center of God’s will” and not “miss God’s best.”  In other words, God has an individual plan for me, but it is my responsibility to make sure that it happens.
Such important decisions might include:
·      Should I get married or stay single?
·      Whom should I marry?
·      Where should I go to college?
·      What career should I pursue?
·      Should I go into full-time ministry?
·      Where should I live?  What house should I buy?
·      Should I have children?  If so, how many?

Those who hold this prevailing view usually assume that the way to find God’s will is through reading a combination of signs, both internal and external, including the Bible, an inner witness, personal desires, circumstances, mature counsel, and common sense.  It is frequently accompanied by an attitude of fear – “what if I miss God’s will?  My life is going to be messed up forever.” I personally spent years paralyzed by this kind of fear.  I was petrified that I was going to go to the wrong college, pursue the wrong career, marry the wrong person, and spend the rest of my life suffering God’s second-best or third-best plan for my life, all because of my own inability to accurately discern His will.

Is this a biblical way to think about God’s will and decision-making?  Is God’s plan riding on my discernment?  I’m going to argue that the answer to both questions is a resounding, “NO!”  We’ll begin next time by looking at the two different concepts of God’s will that we find in Scripture.  Between now and then, I encourage you to read through Isaiah 40-48 and consider this question: Does the God described there sound like a God whose will can be thwarted?

Friday, February 7, 2014

Discerning True Repentance, Part 4

Below is the fourth part of a series of articles from several years back on the difference between worldly sorrow and godly sorrow.  If you are interesting in reading all four articles in one sitting, here are the links: Part1   Part2   Part3   Part4.  


Heart Change
With true repentance and faith, there is also a genuine change of heart. Because the heart is the vehicle of worship, any turning from a sin idol toward Christ will necessarily involve a turning of the heart. The person’s affections are transformed from loving sin to loving God and other people. This change of heart is manifested in the object of one’s sorrow. The repentant person has sorrow over his offense against God, while the unrepentant person has sorrow for himself. The outward turning from sin toward God is a reflection of the inward change of heart.

We find an example in the life of David. In Psalm 51, he makes no mention of the consequences of his sin, but is concerned only with reconciliation with God, as he prays in v10, Create in me a clean heart. Paul understood this change to be the object of his teaching in 1Tim 1:5: the goal of our instruction is love from a pure heart and a good conscience and a sincere faith.

Joel 2:12-13a shows that it is this inward heart change that God desires rather than outward ritual: “Yet even now,” declares the LORD, “Return to Me with all your heart, and with fasting, weeping and mourning; and rend your heart and not your garments.” And yet the unrepentant person, because there has been no turning to Christ in faith, has no true heart change in regard to his sin. His change will amount only to the outward rending of his garments. His worship will resemble that of Israel, of whom God said in Isa 29:13b, “[They] honor Me with their lip service, but they remove their hearts far from Me, and their reverence for Me consists of tradition learned by rote.”

It is important to note the since we cannot see the human heart, the only evidence we will have of a person's repentance will be the fruit of his life. It is only from a changed heart that obedience springs forth in the form of fruit in keeping with repentance.

Fruit in Keeping with Repentance
John the Baptist challenged the Pharisees and Sadducees in Matt 3:8 to “bear fruit in keeping with repentance.” It is impossible for a person to be truly repentant and not show any signs of fruit. In true repentance the Holy Spirit always effects change.

This fruit will be seen in both a negative and a positive change in behavior. The negative change comes in the form of the ceasing of the sinful activity of which the person repented. This is a function of putting off the sin, putting on Christ, and “making no provision for the flesh in regard to its lusts” (Rom 13:14). A repentant person will be eager to engage in the radical amputation spoken of in Matt 5:29-30. He will desire to cut off all sources of temptation in his pursuit of Christ.

The positive change will come in the form of the cultivation of Christ-like attributes, as found in Gal 5:22-23: The fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control. These virtues will be the direct result of having put on Christ. A person who has truly repented of gluttony should manifest the fruit of self-control. A person who has truly repented of anger should manifest the fruit of patience and kindness. The presence or absence of such fruit will be the most telling indication of whether or not someone has experienced the godly sorrow that leads to repentance.

On the other hand, a person of worldly sorrow, because he has not yielded to Christ in faith and therefore experienced a genuine change of heart, will exhibit no such fruit. He will be relegated to his own man-made outward acts of false piety. This is the essence of penance, spoken of in Col 2:23, These are matters which have, to be sure, the appearance of wisdom in self-made religion and self-abasement and severe treatment of the body, but are of no value against fleshly indulgence. Not only will there be no positive change in the form of Christ-like fruit, but there will be no negative change in the form of the permanent turning from sin. The person most likely will be hesitant to make significant changes in order to make no provision for the flesh. He will repeatedly fall back into the sin that precipitated his worldly form of sorrow.

The ability to recognize true sorrow and repentance is a vital thing for your own life. If you are dealing with a sin that you just can’t seem to overcome, reread this series of posts with that sin in mind. Could it be that you have never truly repented? The sorrow that you feel for your sin – is it sorrow over how you have offended our holy God or is it sorrow over the consequences? Have you turned away from the sin and toward Christ in faith? Or are you simply trying through your own flesh to stop sinning? Scripture has given us truths that will allow us to examine our own hearts. I encourage you to do so.

Recognizing true sorrow and repentance is also important in our efforts to help each other battle sin. Whether you are meeting with an accountability partner who is seeking help with a particular sin or you are engaged in a church discipline situation, using these truths, you will be able to assist those fellow believers in understanding the essence of repentance. May the Lord impress upon us the importance of dealing with our sin and returning to fellowship with Him.

Thursday, February 6, 2014

Discerning True Repentance, Part 3

Below is the third part of a series of articles from several years back on the difference between worldly sorrow and godly sorrow.  If you are interesting in reading all four articles in one sitting, here are the links: Part1   Part2   Part3   Part4.  I'm also posting one installment per day this week, if you just want to read and digest one at a time.  I hope these are helpful to you.


Not only will godly sorrow and true repentance be evidenced by the characteristics mentioned in 2 Cor 7:11, they will always be accompanied by faith. Repentance can never exist by itself. This is true whether it is the initial repentance that takes place at salvation or the ongoing repentance that takes place in sanctification. There is always the turning from sin and toward Christ. Spurgeon once said that repentance is “the twin sister to faith.” This is clearly the case as 2 Cor 7:10 says that godly sorrow produces a repentance without regret, “leading to salvation.” Salvation is by faith (Eph 2:8), so if repentance leads to salvation, then repentance must be accompanied by faith.

In Matt 11:28-29b, Jesus says, "Come to Me, all who are weary and heavy-laden, and I will give you rest. Take My yoke upon you and learn from Me…” There cannot merely be the unloading of one’s sin burden in repentance. The sinner must also take up the yoke of Christ by faith, which includes being subject to Him and obedient to Him. Commenting on this passage, John MacArthur observes in The Gospel According to Jesus, “The invitation applies only to those who know they are at the end of their own resources, people desperate to turn from self and sin to the Savior.” This makes perfect sense in light of biblical teaching on the subject of heart worship. Rom 1:23 teaches that when man rejected God, he did so to turn to idolatry. The heart of man was designed to worship and it must worship something. If it is not worshiping Christ, it will worship idols of sin.

This concept is shown in the life of the nation of Israel in Jer 2:13: "For My people have committed two evils: they have forsaken Me, the fountain of living waters, to hew for themselves cisterns, broken cisterns that can hold no water.” The sinful rejection of God always involves two components. First, it consists of turning away from Him, and second, turning toward sin. Repentance and faith can be viewed as the reverse. Godly sorrow leads first to turning from sin, and second to turning toward Christ in faith.

That is why we frequently find in the New Testament the two-pronged method of dealing with sin, commonly referred to as “putting off and putting on.” Rom 13:12-14 shows this pattern: “The night is almost gone, and the day is near. Therefore let us lay aside the deeds of darkness and put on the armor of light. Let us behave properly as in the day, not in carousing and drunkenness, not in sexual promiscuity and sensuality, not in strife and jealousy. But put on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make no provision for the flesh in regard to its lusts.” Put off sin, put on Christ. Similar passages can be found in Eph 4:22-24, Col 3:8-11, and 2 Tim 2:22.

This faith that accompanies repentance trusts in Christ for the power and grace to overcome sin. Eph 3:20 speaks of the power of God that works within us. This does not mean that one should sit back and wait for God to expend all of the effort required for sanctification. Rather, he should take to heart Paul’s words in Phil 2:12b-13: “…work out your salvation with fear and trembling; for it is God who is at work in you, both to will and to work for His good pleasure.”

Conversely, with worldly sorrow and penance there is no such faith. This kind of person has not despaired of his own strength. He feels no sorrow for having offended God, but rather feels sorrow for having suffered the consequences. Because there is no faith, the sinner can only try in his flesh to deal with his sin. We find this very thing in the life of Judas Iscariot in Matt 27:3-5. He felt genuine sorrow over his betrayal of Christ, but it was not godly sorrow that turns to Christ in faith. Instead, Judas attempted to deal with his sin in his own strength by hanging himself, the ultimate act of penance.

The unrepentant man attempts to turn from his sin without turning to Christ in faith. But his penance does not work because it is founded upon self-trust. Col 2:19 speaks of this kind of individual. In his “fleshly mind” he does not “hold fast to the head, from whom the entire body, being supplied and held together by the joints and ligaments, grows with a growth which is from God.” Because he is not attached to Christ the head, there is no spiritual growth. Therefore, not only will the unrepentant person show no progress in defeating his sin, he will show little affection and striving after Christ.

Godly sorrow that leads to repentance is always accompanied by faith in Christ. Next time, we’ll look at another essential element of godly sorrow: heart change

Wednesday, February 5, 2014

Discerning True Repentance, Part 2

Below is the second part of a series of articles from several years back on the difference between worldly sorrow and godly sorrow.  Worldly sorrow is characteristic of false repentance; godly sorrow is characteristic of true repentance.  If you are interesting in reading all four articles in one sitting, here are the links: Part1   Part2   Part3   Part4.  I'll also be posting one installment per day this week, if you just want to read and digest one at a time.  I hope these are helpful to you.

Last week I started a short blog series on the differences between godly sorrow and worldly sorrow: how to know if repentance is genuine or if it is a cheap counterfeit – penance. 2 Cor 7:8-11 are a key text for this topic. V11 outlines seven characteristics produced by godly sorrow that can be used to determine whether or not our own sorrow over our sin is true godly sorrow or self-centered worldly sorrow. We covered the first three last time, so we’ll look at the other four today.

Fourth, godly sorrow produces fear. Rather than the natural worldly fear of man, the sorrow that leads to repentance is accompanied by the fear of God. This is a reverence for both God’s holiness and His wrath against sin, which serves as a deterrent for returning to one’s sin. Proverbs 16:6b says, By the fear of the LORD one keeps away from evil. Someone characterized by this kind of sorrow will not dare presume upon the grace of God, but will walk with a healthy dread of the wrath of God as well as a reverence for His holiness.

Fifth, godly sorrow produces longing. When the sinner truly understands his offense against the Lord, his heart longs for reconciliation. This is a wholesale pursuit of repair of one’s relationship with God and others. We see this in the life of the apostle Peter. In Matt 26:75, Peter is shown to be gripped with sorrow over his denial of Christ. That sorrow proved to be godly sorrow in John 21:7, when Peter, while fishing with John, learns that Jesus is at the shore, and casts himself into the sea to swim to the Savior. The godly sorrow that leads to repentance draws one with longing to the Lord.

Sixth, godly sorrow produces zeal. This is defined as “intense positive interest in something.” In other contexts, the word is translated “jealousy.” 2 Cor 11:2 speaks of Paul’s “godly jealousy” for the church at Corinth since he betrothed her as a bride to Christ. So there is a sense of zealous ownership to this word. The person of godly sorrow has a passion for God as the One to whom the sinner belongs. The person is captivated by his desire for the Lord.

Seventh, godly sorrow produces avenging of wrong. This speaks of a person’s desire to root out any vestiges of sin in his own life. Having been grieved by his sin against God and indignant on God’s behalf, the sinner goes on the offensive against other sin in his life so as to better serve and glorify the Lord. It is important that this not be confused with attempting to punish oneself in order to earn favor with God. That is penance. Rather this is simply the desire to glorify God by abhorring and killing one’s own sin.

Paul concludes v11 by writing, In everything you demonstrated yourselves to be innocent in the matter. In other words, by these signs of godly sorrow the Corinthians showed their repentance to be genuine. They were forgiven of their sin. When we look at these products of godly sorrow together, we can see how it is that godly sorrow leads to repentance. Each of the seven products speaks of love for God and hatred for sin. Without explicitly stating it, Paul has hinted at a biblical definition of repentance, that is, turning away from sin and toward God.

Worldly sorrow, on the other hand, rather than being centered on the glory of God and leading to repentance, leads to death. If it is godly sorrow that produces the characteristics in v11, then worldly sorrow must be devoid of these characteristics. The old sinful man is still thriving. There is no diligence in pursuing righteousness, no vindication of guilt, no indignation on God’s behalf, no fear of God and deterrent from sin, no longing for Christ, no zeal for His glory, or hatred for sin. The absence of all of these things points to an absence of repentance and an absence of salvation, which means death. This sorrow then is not a sorrow for sin committed against God, a grieving for an offense to His holiness. Rather it is a self-centered sorrow, a sorrow that comes from being caught. Worldly sorrow is concerned more with the consequences of sin than with the glory of God.

I encourage you to take this passage to heart and examine yourself. Are there any areas of sin in your life which you cannot seem to overcome? Is it possible that the sorrow you have felt over this sin is worldly sorrow rather than godly sorrow?

Next time we’ll look at another difference between true repentance and penance: faith.

Tuesday, February 4, 2014

Discerning True Repentance

Several years ago, I wrote a series of articles on the difference between worldly sorrow and godly sorrow.  Worldly sorrow is characteristic of false repentance; godly sorrow is characteristic of true repentance.  How can we tell the difference?  This is a truth that could bear review from time to time, so this week I'm going to repost those articles.  If you are interesting in reading all four articles in one sitting, here are the links: Part 1   Part 2   Part 3   Part 4.  I'll also be posting one installment per day this week, if you just want to read and digest one at a time.  I hope these are helpful to you.

If someone is sorry for his sin, does that mean that he has repented of his sin? Some may be tempted to believe that they have repented as long as they have shown some form of sorrow. However, 2 Corinthians 7:10-11 teaches that there are two kinds of sorrow: godly sorrow that produces repentance, and worldly sorrow that produces death. It follows then that sorrow itself is not the earmark of true repentance. There is sorrow that leads to repentance, and there is sorrow that leads to the man-made counterfeit, penance.

2 Cor 7:10-11 provides perhaps the clearest biblical teaching on the issue of sorrow over sin:
10 For the sorrow that is according to the will of God produces a repentance without regret, leading to salvation, but the sorrow of the world produces death. 11 For behold what earnestness this very thing, this godly sorrow, has produced in you: what vindication of yourselves, what indignation, what fear, what longing, what zeal, what avenging of wrong! In everything you demonstrated yourselves to be innocent in the matter.

Jay Adams, commenting on this passage in his book, More Than Redemption, rightly notes that what we find here is not the same kind of sorrow in two different intensities, “rather it is between two kinds of sorrows – both painful experiences that differ in source and result.” Indeed, Paul describes the source of the one as (literally) “according to God,” and the other as “of the world.” This information alone will not help us to differentiate between the two in our own lives. It is necessary also to know the result of both kinds of sorrow.

V11 gives a list of seven things produced by godly sorrow, all of which are God-centered in nature. Paul seeks not only show the effects of this sorrow but also to use them as proof of the Corinthians’ repentance. First, in addition to repentance, godly sorrow produces earnestness. This is an “diligent commitment in discharge of an obligation.” It is the picture of diligence in working against the problem of sin in one’s life. A believer who has true godly sorrow will be one who engages in the hard work of sanctification, showing eagerness to change and follow hard after Christ.

Second, godly sorrow produces vindication. This is a desire to rid oneself of the stigma attached to sin. There is such a longing to get away from sin, its effects on the sinner, and offense against God, that the person wants to be seen as repentant in the eyes of those around him. The motive is not pride, but a desire to glorify God. A person with true godly sorrow is willing to do anything in his power to show those against whom he has sinned that he has repented.

Third, godly sorrow produces indignation. This is indignation at one’s own sin and its offense against a holy God. We see this in David’s cry in Ps 51:4, Against You, You only, I have sinned and done what is evil in Your sight, so that You are justified when You speak and blameless when You judge. This is where we begin to see that godly sorrow is a sorrow over how the sinner has offended God. He has a God-given love for the glory of God and recognizes how his sin has denied God’s rightful place of preeminence in his life. It creates not only a grief for the sin, but an indignation on behalf of God. This would indicate that the person with godly sorrow will show far greater care for God’s reputation than for his own.

Next time, we’ll look at the final four products of godly sorrow. Until then, examine your own heart for the characteristics we’ve just looked at. Does your heart show evidence of godly sorrow or worldly sorrow?